Toddlers are naturally adept at testing the physical properties of an object. While they may not have the sophisticated tools found in labs, they do tend to test things in terms that are practical to their every day life. Here’s a few examples of common tests run at our house.
A simple method for testing density is to put an object in a given liquid. If the object sinks, it is more dense than the liquid, if it floats, it is less dense.
My twins don’t generally have access to open liquid other than the occasional bath, so they watch and wait for any opportunity to explore this particular scientific method. This often involves a fakeout where one twin runs into the bathroom and waits for mommy to haul him out of there, while the second twin lays in wait with the testing objects and sneaks in while all the commotion from the first twin is happening. Another popular method is doing a kamikaze style run toward the bathroom and flinging the object toward the toilet. This is usually a less successful testing style as their throwing arms are not super accurate yet, and they are often discovered before they get the results. The results are always the same though; they have yet to put an object in the toilet that is less dense than water. Everything sinks. So then we also get to learn some practical skills of plunging and snaking.
There are multiple ways to test for porosity, but one way is to determine how much liquid an object can hold. The more liquid, the more porous the material. As mentioned, the twins rarely have access to open liquids of any kind (although a leaky sippy cup does make a handy substitute!) , so they will often substitute cheerios. If cheerios are handy, the first thing that you should do when encountering any object is to put a cheerio in it. If the cheerio fits in it, the object is porous and you should repeat the experiment until the object is full. If a cheerio does not fit in the object, you should probably eat the cheerio, feed it to your brother, feed it to the dog, or sometimes, dump all the cheerios on the ground out of frustration. Cheerios fit almost anywhere; in the safety cover over the electrical plug, in all your toys, in your stuffed animal’s belly button (also a handy storage place for a later snack), in the couch, in mommy’s purse; the possibilities are vast.
So far, their life’s work will be filling the heating vents with cheerios as they are proving to be endlessly porous.
Whenever the twins find an object they first test it for hardness. Traditionally, hardness is tested by scraping materials against each other and figuring out which one will break first. The hardness of an object is therefore relative to the hardness of the other object. The twins have developed a rather elegant scale of their own.
Test 1: Wall banging test
First, take an object and bang it against the wall. If it leaves a dent, it’s hard. However, even objects that you would expect to be soft, such as stuffed animals, manage to leave their mark on drywall.
Test 2: Window smashing test
Next, smash it against the window. If mommy yells, the object is harder than a window. If she rolls her eyes, the object is softer than a window.
Test 3: The brother smashing test
Finally, smash it on your brother’s head until he cries. If it takes 1 smash, the object is hard. However, I have seen them withstand up to 22 smashes before the subject finally cries. This is a finer scale test as loudness, length of cry and general mood of subject must also be taken into account. They are generally very obliging about being hit on the head; they’re nothing if not dedicated to science.
This is to say nothing of the thousands of biochemistry experiments being performed on a daily basis. Many of these are ongoing projects, such as observing the process of state change in a frozen peach through to the decay and putrefaction over a matter of several weeks. This is entirely dependent on mommy’s poor housekeeping and the twins are very fortunate that they have an opportunity to perform long term experiments like this.